In the pulpit: Why I’m losing interest in supporting Manchester United

Opinion

Something strange has been happening to me recently, that I can’t remember happening since I was a teenager. No, this isn’t some sordid tale, go to the Tales website if that’s your thing. What I’m talking about is apathy towards United. I’m starting to lose that nervousness I used to have when I watched them play, the fear that if they failed to win it was a sign that things were going wrong. I’m starting to lose interest.

When this happened last time, I was hitting my teenage years and my interest in football waned, to be replaced with what every boy that age is obsessed with: video games. Why watch a ninety-minute football match when I can unlock all the secret characters on Dragonball Z Budokai 2? Why watch Rooney, Keane and Van Nistelrooy when I can control them virtually and batter Real Madrid 9-0? Who wants to watch United vs Chelsea battle for a league title when I can rid the world of the Heartless in Kingdom Hearts?

Strangely enough, it was my love of video games that then threw me back into football. Playing Football Manager 2005 reignited my interest in the sport and United again, unfortunately in the 2005/06 season (I played it a year later than release) when we didn’t win anything. But I stuck with it and over the next six or seven years, United were one of the best sides in the world. My love of football kept growing. I wanted to learn about all the teams, the tactics, the history, the culture, the people.

Ferguson then retired and United’s stock plummeted, finishing 7th, 4th and 5th. But I was still watching, still invested in every game. I would shake and sweat through every match before the first goal, so filled with fear and anticipation it physically leaked out of me. These were dark times, but it still felt as if the club were trying to move in the right direction. We were still the outsiders who were winning against all the odds as we always had been, we were just struggling with the ‘winning’ part.

In the summer of 2016, United hired Jose Mourinho. This was the first point that I questioned my love. Sir Bobby Charlton had previously vetoed any possibility of United hiring Mourinho, so unimpressed by his antics at Real Madrid that he didn’t think he was fit to coach United. So the board named a stand after him to appease him before hiring the Portuguese manager.

Now we had the win at all costs manager, who ran the full length of Old Trafford to gloat after his team dived their way to victory. The man who gauged the eye of Tito Vilanova, who drove a doctor out of her job because she put her Hippocratic Oath over a possible home victory to Swansea.

I was willing to give him a chance, maybe he might have changed his ways? Maybe now he’s at the biggest club in the world he’ll curb his behaviour? For a while, this seemed to be the case. There were far fewer outbursts, far fewer monologues to Geoff Shreeves and no eye gauging whatsoever. However, in the last few weeks, we’ve seen this behaviour resurface, culminating in that ridiculous ‘brawl’ in the tunnel at Old Trafford over ‘loud music’. Come on Jose, chill the f*** out, mow your damn lawn and sit the hell down (Macklemore 2015).

The football is also very dull. This grey, slow, nil-nil style. United often look like a Roman turtle formation grinding forward towards victory. When people criticise the current team for this, Mourinho defenders often point to the Van Gaal era and say ‘but what about that?’ The thing is, I at least believed in what I thought Van Gaal was trying to achieve. Possession football with overlapping fullbacks, inverted wingers and playmakers in midfield. Those four games towards the end of the 2014-15 season against Spurs, Liverpool, Villa and City were the best performances we’ve had since Ferguson left. If they could have played like that consistently I think Van Gaal would still be there now.

Alas, they couldn’t pull it off. I’m still not sure if Van Gaal ever quite got United to play how he wanted. He was also let down by the transfer business, although some of the errors were undoubtedly his fault (how we could do with Di Maria right now). But stick Pogba in that team and I’m sure they would have been far better. This current United suck so much joy out of games it often makes me consider turning the PS4 on during the games.

My apathy isn’t entirely Jose’s fault of course. The board plays a large part in it as well. As every right-thinking United fan knows, the Glazers are a virus, loading the club with debt and sucking the profits away for themselves. I don’t need to bore you with paragraphs explaining why they are terrible, we all know this.

However, what I didn’t expect to happen is the rampant commercialisation of the club. Of course, this was already happening prior to Ferguson’s retirement, but it seems to have accelerated since he left. We have a personality-free social media presence, boasting about our global follower count. There are weekly press releases crowing about our new business partners (and with that the woeful adverts) and all the money we both make. Every financial year we get stacks of articles written about our record revenue, larger than the GDP of some small countries. All the while we don’t pay the staff the living wage, we don’t have a disability access statement and we don’t have a women’s team because…well, no one has ever been given an answer.

I also feel that the fans are being treated like customers. I have only been able to attend three games this year due to the obscene cost of tickets, despite living only half an hour from the ground. When I have been leaving the stadium after the 2-0 victory over Benfica, the 2-1 win over CSKA and the 1-0 triumph over Bournemouth, the same thought has hit me every time: was that really worth £50+ quid? If I add all those games up, I could’ve had a holiday for that. Had I not been going to those games with my Dad, it would have been a dire experience.

Oh, and another thing! Before the Bournemouth game, we got an email saying we had to take our ID to the game, to ensure that we hadn’t given our membership cards to someone else. This isn’t because of a security risk or to stop ticket touts. This can only be an attempt to grab whatever money they would get from me cancelling my ticket and a possible resale. They’ve already sold the ticket, they’ve made the money! Why do they care who’s in my seat? Would they rather have empty seats?

Despite all of the above, I will never fall out of love with football. It’s too exciting. As much as I still love video games (I really love video games, have I mentioned that?) this love is everlasting. I will always track down the exciting teams and try to watch them. This year it’s Napoli, City, Madrid (more for the possibility of their failure but still), in the past it’s been Monaco, Dortmund and Roma. My Dad and I are planning a trip to Europe to watch a game next year. I am far more excited about that than I have been any United match this year.

Sadly, I could really envisage a future when I don’t love United. Despite being the biggest team in the world, when I started supporting United they felt like the anti-establishment team. Cantona had just retired, but you still had Beckham, hated by the country post World Cup 98. No one liked the Nevilles, everyone was terrified of Keane and Ferguson was hated because he was so radical, so anarchic.

That is now gone. United are a global mega-corporation. We are Tyrell Corporation, Buy N Large, the establishment. I hate capitalism, obscene wealth and economic inequality. But I’m currently supporting the team that represents the worst of these qualities in football. I’ll still support them for the rest of this season and I think I’ll likely be there as long as there’s a faint whiff of what Busby and Ferguson built. But the longer we continue down this road the less likely I am to stay. At that point, I’ll have two options. Go full hipster and start supporting footballing concepts and positions, or give in to apathy and fall back completely into video games. I do still have to get Nier, Everybody’s Golf and Okami HD. This might be an easier decision than I first thought.

Every week in this column, I’ll end with a ‘Jose Out’ rating. This is a rating out of 10 to show how much I would like him to be sacked. I’m not a fan of the man and haven’t been from the beginning, but I feel I should represent my feelings as they move from week to week. It’ll be a gauge to show how much you should hate me and how much of a traitor I am for ‘not supporting the team.’

Jose Out rating: 7/10. Not all the problems are his fault, but he’s definitely not going to be the solution. Can we not do something mental and hire Eric?

About the Author

Bob Priestley
Manchester United fan and writer of 'entertaining articles' or 'a collection of words' depending on who you listen to